Women are more likely to die from breast cancer in Louisiana than they are in other states, while young black women in the state suffer disproportionatey from the disease. Two programs, financed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and housed at the LSU School of Public Health, are working to help combat the disease and support the women affected.
No-Cost Mammograms and Pap Tests for Louisiana Women Who Qualify
The Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program (LBCHP) performs no-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings (including mammograms and Pap tests) for low-income, uninsured and underinsured women across the state. Louisiana has the second highest breast cancer death rate in the United States, in spite of having a lower average incidence rate, with most of those deaths attributed to a lack of health care access and screenings. There is a program like LBCHP in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories and 11 tribal organizations, as mandated by Congress in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990. In Louisiana, LBCHP currently reaches approximately 14 percent of the eligible population.
SurviveDAT Offers Support for Young Survivors
Breast cancer is somewhat rare under the age of 45, but it does happen and it happens more in the South. Any woman can be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, but for reasons unknown, young black women are more likely to develop the disease at those younger ages, which skews the numbers of people affected in the southern United States.
These young women often face issues that do not affect older women with the disease, including often more aggressive types of the disease, fertility decisions (which should be addressed before starting treatment), genetic factors (affecting male family members too), relationship concerns with partners and children, career implications, financial considerations and more.
To address those and improve the quality of life for these women, SurviveDAT, an in-person and online support group was established in south Louisiana three years ago. It proved so successful, SurviveDAT has now expanded its online advice and support capabilities to north Louisiana and leads the Gulf States Young Breast Cancer Survivor Network, which provides the same types of resources in Mississippi and Alabama.
Going online in the form of websites and social media makes sense in the Gulf States, as much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are rural and many women are unable to travel to in-person support groups. In contrast, they do have digital access, with young women, especially African-Americans, using social media platforms and owning smartphones at high rates. SurviveDAT now enables these women to find everything from health advice and the latest news on breast cancer to where they may find a makeup artist skilled in recreating eyebrows. To learn more, go to www.survivedat.org. To donate, go to https://give.lsuhealthfoundation.org/survivedat.
What Every Woman Needs To Know
Every woman, no matter her age, needs to watch and check for symptoms of breast cancer. These include:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or breast
- Pulling in of the nipple area or the breast
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
People should also be aware of risk factors. Being female and older are two ofthe biggest risk factors (women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men), while other risk factors that people cannot change include: genetics, family history, dense breasts, women who started menstruating early or went through menopause late, previous chest radiation, exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) and long-term use of hormone replacement therapy.
Risk factors that women can change include: having had no children or a first child after age 30, drinking alcohol, being overweight and lack of physical activity. Recent studies are also linking tobacco use and night shift work to breast cancer.
All major health organizations agree that women 50 to 74 years should have regular mammograms, with no more than two years between them and most recommending yearly screenings. Some, such as the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen, recommend women start at age 40.
The Louisiana Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (LBCHP) and SurviveDAT are part of the CDC-funded Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs (LCP) housed at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health. For more information, go to www.louisianacancer.org.